Pomegranate and Fennel Roasted Acorn Squash

Pomegranates are such a nutritious, versatile and beautiful fruit. Before we delve into this fabulously easy and delicious recipe I've whipped up for you, let's spend some time focusing on the pomegranate. If you're not familiar with pomegranates, they are a round fruit (about the size of a grapefruit) originally from Persia. The actual fruit and juice come from the seeds that are packed inside and surrounded by a tough outer membrane. Most pomegranates you see in grocery stores are a deep cranberry color but they range in color from white to purple. Here are three important points I want to highlight about pomegranates for you:

1. How to choose and store a pomegranate- Although pomegranate juice can be purchased year round, fresh pomegranates are usually available September-January. When choosing a pomegranate, you're looking for weight more so than color. A pomegranate with more weight will be denser in fruit and juice. These will actually keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. Just make sure to store them in a zip lock bag or airtight container. You can also seed the whole pomegranate (see below) and just store the seeds in a bag (they freeze well too!).

2. How to seed a pomegranate- There are lots of theories about this, and trust me, I know, seeding a pomegranate is not a pretty task. I've tried several methods and this is by far the quickest and easiest...and it's actually kind of fun! The first thing you'll want to do it put on an apron and roll up your sleeves (you too, boys!) because these babies will squirt and stain. Cut the pomegranate in half and hold one half of the pomegranate, seed side down (so your hands are touching the inside of the pomegranate) over a large bowl. Take a wooden spoon and smack (seriously, SMACK) the outside of the pomegranate so that the seeds fall into the bowl. You may have to do this in a couple rounds and remove some of the membrane inside, but this method works! Keep smacking until you get all of the seeds out of the pomegranate. Enjoy!

3. Nutritional benefits of pomegranates- The pomegranate is one of the most powerful antioxidant of all fruits. It contains a unique compound called punicalagin, a very powerful antioxidant shown to benefit the heart and blood vessels. It can help to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure as well as reduce inflammation. 

Now that you are all pomegranate experts, let's start incorporating this amazing fruit into your diet. The easiest way of course is to eat the seeds on their own. They are great to snack on. I put them in salads and use them as a garnish for soups. They are also delicious turned into a sauce and paired with duck, pork or lamb. Today, I decided to experiment with roasting them and I have to say it turned out pretty well! 

It's a good rule of thumb to assume that fruits and veggies that share seasonality will pair well with each other and the same holds true with this recipe. Pomegranates are an excellent compliment to all of the delicious autumn squash varieties that are available in the grocery stores right now. Not only do they add a bit of sweet tang to a hearty squash, but they add a beautiful pop of color and, as you now know, tons of nutrients.

The below recipe is would be great served over a mixed green salad for lunch or alongside pork, duck or roasted chicken as a main course. Now let's get cooking!

Pomegranate and Fennel Roasted Acorn Squash- Serves 6 as a side

Ingredients:

1 medium sized acorn squash

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

4 TBS fresh pomegranate seeds, separated 

2 1/2 tsp dried fennel seeds

2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

2. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, following the creases of the squash. Scoop out the seeds in the middle with a spoon. Cut the hollowed squash into half moon shapes, you should get about 12 half moons. 

3. Place squash in a bowl and toss in 2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil so that each half moon is lightly coated. Arrange on your baking sheet so that each half moon is touching the pan, they should not overlap. 

4. In a small bowl, toss fennel, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper together. Sprinkle this mixture over the squash. 

5. Lastly, sprinkle the 2 TBS pomegranate seeds oven the seasoned squash. Roast for 25 minutes or until fork tender. Top with remaining fresh pomegranate seeds. Serve hot or at room temperature!